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Guinean Journalist, Nassirou Diallo, Speaks at Columbia University – “Democracy Under Fire”

May 18, 2010

From the website of Alliance Guinea, one of the hosts of the program:

Standing room only for “Democracy Under Fire” at Columbia University

Written by Alliance Guinea on 17 May 2010

The Stabile Student Center at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism in New York, New york was filled to capacity Wednesday night with Guineans, journalists, students, and others interested in Guinea and in freedom of the press for the event “Democracy Under Fire: Freedom of Media in Guinea”. The panel discussion was hosted by Alliance Guinea, the Committee to Protect Journalists and the Columbia “J School” in partnership with the Guinean Forces Vives in the USA and Columbia University’s African Studies Working Group.  Everyone was so interested in what the panelists had to say they stayed until almost an hour after the event was supposed to end!

The event was moderated by Milton Allimadi, Publisher and CEO of Black Star News, and the featured speaker was Nassirou Diallo, a Guinean journalist who witnessed the massacre on September 28th and is now in exile in the United States. Mr. Diallo recounted what happened to him and other journalists in Guinea, how he had been targeted by the military on several occasions for his reporting, and how he had to flee Guinea the night of the massacre for fear of retribution for his eyewitness accounts. His heroism and integrity was greatly felt by the audience.  Mr. Diallo also talked about the linkages between journalism and activism – especially in a political context as difficult as that in Guinea – and how he is now using new media such as BlogTalkRadio to continue his work through his new program “Le 4ème Pouvoir” even while physically far from Guinea.

Earlier in the day, Mr. Diallo appeared on the Brian Lehrer Show, a critically acclaimed talk show on New York’s premier public radio station, WNYC, to talk about democracy and the challenges for media in Guinea.  To hear Mr. Diallo together with Jennifer Swift-Morgan of Alliance Guinea on that show, listen here.

At Columbia, Mr. Diallo was joined by two panelists: Josh Friedman, former head of international programs at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and a board member for the Committee to Protect Journalists and Alice Backer, former Global Voices Online editor responsible for African blogs, new media and a communications consultant. Mr. Friedman spoke about his many different experiences as a journalist in conflict zones and the various ways journalists must confront these dangers, and he spoke of a journalists “natural talent” which he felt Nassirou possessed in abundance.

the crowd at Columbia University's School of Journalism Pulitzer-prize winning journalist and Committee to Protect Journalists board member Josh Friedman addresses the crowd at Columbia University’s School of Journalism 

Ms. Backer talked of the exciting new ways people can participate in sharing news and in “amplifying global voices”. She described the general feeling among many that the stories reported in the mainstream press in the Western world do not accurately reflect the complexities and positive aspects of many developing countries. Ms Backer, who is Haitian, used Haiti as an example of the “countless untold stories” when she said that Haiti is known as the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere but no one knows that it is the second oldest republic (after the United States) in the Western Hemisphere and has a long history of promoting democratic movements. The participation of civil society and regular civilians, whether in blogs or other forms of new media, is crucial to a more representational form of news, especially for women who often are not represented.

The event ended with questions from the audience. One journalist from Guinea asked how to fight corruption in journalism and another journalist from India made a comment that new media can also be used by the oppressors, such as the military in his region. Corruption seemed a central point and was also cited by Mme Doussou Conde Sanoh, member of the Alliance Guinea steering committee and a Guinean women’s rights activist, who discussed how corruption is used to silence strong women in the political sphere in Guinea.

Agathe Sector

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